Not All Philadelphians Embrace the Urban Farm
Mary Seton Corboy is pushing healthy food to the city’s poor, but they’re not biting.
By Jessica Goldschmidt
Aug 6, 2012
Mary Seton Corboy isn’t a sociologist. She is or has been a lot of things: seasoned farmhand, chef, urban agriculture pioneer, political science grad student, biodiesel enthusiast. But she is not, she tells me repeatedly, a sociologist: “If you really want to know what’s going on, you can’t sit in a think tank. We’ve been on the ground floor of this stuff a long time. All we see is what’s in front of us, and that’s why it’s so frustrating!”
What’s in front of them—them being Greensgrow, the cool city farm initiative Corboy founded more than 15 years ago on a brownfield in Kensington—is the landscape of cheap, synthetic, heavily subsidized and highly unhealthy food options that blights low-income communities like Kensington all across America. Which is why, back in 2010, when Corboy noticed how few of her neighbors belonged to the Greensgrow CSA farm-share program, she decided to launch the Local Initiative for Food Education. LIFE participants get a low-cost fruit and vegetable share (which can be paid for using a SNAP card, a.k.a. food stamps) and cooking and nutrition classes timed to coincide with share pickup.
So what’s Corboy’s frustration? That thus far, many of her neighbors still prefer Twinkies to turnips and canning tutorials. “We just don’t see engagement from the old Kensington neighbors,” Corboy laments. In LIFE’s initial run, only about half of the 25 available shares were purchased by longtime locals; the rest were bought by a handful of young Americorps volunteers who receive SNAP as part of their pay package. This past year, enrollment was just as low.